by BOB EKMAN
After spending close to 40 years in the hospitality industry, so much has happened during that time in this crazy industry we call hospitality. It’s all amazing.
And in that time, we’ve seen no less than four economic recessions that have knocked our beloved industry off its feet. In the early 1990s, we experienced high interest rates and overleveraging of real estate, including hotels resulting in government takeover of numerous properties by their Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). Then, there was 2001 with the attack on U.S. soil on September 11 and the dotcom bubble burst. And surely most recall 2008 and 2009 with the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which led to the collapse or failure of many of the country’s largest financial institutions, including Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG.
But none of those events compared to what has happened in the past year and a half with COVID-19. In addition to the obvious, the U.S. has experienced travel restrictions, quarantines, and stay-at-home orders. More than 24 million people lost their jobs in just three weeks in the Spring of 2020. We all experienced it in one way or the other. Virtually no one in the U.S. was left unaffected. So the real question is, what’s next?!
Hospitality has undoubtedly started its ascent back to some normalcy, but it certainly isn’t across the board and will likely take another 12 to 24 months before things truly return to pre-COVID levels.
If there is good news, and there is, we learned. Our industry learned to behave differently, and we learned to do more with less. We had to. We had to let people go, some who had been with organizations and hotels for years providing outstanding guest service and value. This hurt all of us, including the people making those decisions.
As we all know, there has been an amenity and expense creep during the most recent two-plus decades. If this has taught us anything, this might be the time to consider an amenity descent. We are all looking at things differently. Is housekeeping necessary each day of a stay? Does anyone change their sheets and towels every day at home? Is room service as we knew it a thing of the past? Is the solution grab and go, kiosks, and food delivery to the front desk (Uber Eats, DoorDash, etc.)? Brands have been playing around with kiosk or digital check-in for a long time, and while many other industries have embraced it, hotels have not. Maybe it’s time. How about breakfast in limited-service hotels? Is it really that important to the guest? Next!
And there are some opportunities that have been sitting out there just waiting for the hotel industry to embrace them.
As a quick example, companies can transition the cost of credit card processing to the customer just like in numerous other places like gas stations, restaurants, professional services, government, and more.
Industry veteran Mukesh Mowji sees this as a “gift” from the U.S. government for business owners. “People in all walks of life are seeing this in gas stations, restaurants, and other businesses. Why not hotels?” Mowji asked. “Since AAHOA Members represent more than 50% of all hotels in the U.S. today, there is no doubt this is going to catch on with independent hotels and branded properties. It’s just a matter of time.”
The truth is we have all learned that things have changed and will continue to do so. Your guests will tell you what’s important and what’s expected. They do expect changes as they know business owners will need to do some things just to stay in business or they simply now understand what matters to the guest. So, what’s next? Stay tuned.
Bob Ekman is a 39-year veteran of the hospitality industry with deep ties to AAHOA. He is the CEO of Merchaneer, an AAHOA Platinum Member and a third-party company creating opportunities for business owners. He can be reached at 630-240-4747 or www.merchaneer.com.